It’s 430 bc. The prophet Malachi has finished his
series of prophecies. Israel had went through cycles of rebellion—in the
wilderness after leaving Egypt, during the period of the judges when “every man
did that which was right in his own eyes,” and during the monarchies that led
to a split into two kingdoms, ultimately culminating in the exiles into Assyria
and Babylon. God had promised that a remnant would return to Israel, and they
did. Now, that remnant was also rebelling, and God, through Malachi, calls them
on it and tells them to return to the Lord.
For over 400
years, there are no prophets. God does not speak to His people. There was never
a period before like it. A lot happens in this time, as kingdoms rise and fall
as Daniel predicted. But one thing that does not happen is a word from God meant
for all to hear. Years turn to decades, and decades to centuries. Traditions
continued, but nothing new.
silence continued, a nation waited for something promised in the future, as
more people likely forgot or doubted it would ever occur. God had told the
ancestors of a coming King that a King would come from Judah and be the
rightful heir to David’s throne. The prophet Isaiah said He would be God among
us, born from a virgin. The prophet Micah said He would be born in a small town
outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. These words hung over all humanity as
the years went by.
understand the weight of this silence felt by the world who might have thought
God had finally given up on them? We cannot, because that silence was forever
shattered by what came next.
of this plan had really begun all the way back after the fall of man, when a Conqueror
was promised who would come as a man and crush the head of Satan and suffer
harm in the process. But this began to pick up speed when God spoke on an
One man named
Simeon knew of the prophecies about a Messiah and had complete confidence that
God would fulfill His promises. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not
die until he met this Messiah. His entire life began to center around this
hope. When he is finally introduced, he is ready to die.
sends the angel Gabriel to a priest named Zechariah, who tells him that he and
his wife, both elderly and never able to have children, were going to have a
son to prepare the way for the Messiah. Gabriel appears next to a young virgin
named Mary and tells her that she is pregnant with the Messiah, and when Mary’s
fiancé, Joseph, fears infidelity, Gabriel goes to Joseph and confirms what has
happened. Joseph is a direct descendant of King David.
experiences would be rare enough, but must have been overwhelming in light of
the centuries before. These individuals grew up in a time when God had not been
heard from for hundreds of years. They knew the scriptures, so you might
imagine them asking their parents about the stories contained in them when God
moved in clear ways.
|Artist rendering of the prophet Malachi
parents would have to admit.
my grandparents, or great-grandparents? Have they even seen a prophet?”
“I am afraid
not. You see, God does not move or speak like that anymore. There is an old
family story that your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great
grandmother heard the prophet Malachi preach about the Day of the Lord and Elijah coming again. But that is
the last we heard.”
Joseph was told about how he was the rightful heir to David’s throne, but how Judah
had not had a king since King Zedekiah was captured by the Babylonians almost
600 years ago, and now the family lived in poverty. There was a promise that a
King would again come from their family, but that was said a long time ago in a
To see the
full glory of God Himself coming in humility to be a personal God with us, we
need to understand the deafening silence that was destroyed by it, never again
to return. Seemingly out of nowhere, God begins to move in tangible ways again.
The door was blown off the hinges when this long-promised Messiah was born and angels
filled the sky proclaiming it (in Bethlehem), scaring the robes off the
shepherds who had obviously never experienced it, if they thought it even possible.
Thirty years later, the Messiah Himself burnt the house down when He walked
into the temple and said He was the fulfillment of prophecy.
came and filled four books in the New Testament with the things He said and
did. Then He sent the Holy Spirit to inspire twenty-three more and to continue
speaking to us to this day. For the record, we’re still pretty rebellious, but
that nature hasn’t stopped God from speaking and giving of Himself—giving everything.
scriptures were very clear about the purpose of God’s dwelling among us. The
full meaning of Christmas is found in Good Friday and Easter.
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have the sin of the world placed on Him and be killed as the atoning sacrifice, attaining forgiveness and freedom for those who couldn’t attain it themselves. The psalmist said He would be pierced, thirsty, scorned, and abandoned. The psalms also said He would be delivered to the Gentiles for execution, and those executioners would cast lots for his robe. That Messiah who came to Bethlehem carried a cross to Calvary, facing a brutal physical death, but much worse, facing God’s wrath for the sin of all mankind.
And in that
moment, Jesus became the final Passover lamb. He became the bronze serpent
lifted up so that others could look on Him and live. All the Old Testament
imagery and prophecies found their meaning in Him. And three days later, His
resurrection became every bit the miracle His birth was. The journey of
securing righteousness and eternal life for mankind had begun when the virgin
conceived, and it finished in a miraculous breath.
Up until the
period of silence, God had been speaking throughout all of history without
taking on human flesh. Jesus’s incarnation was more than just His way to teach
us on a personal level. He was born to be a sacrifice. This was not lost on the
people involved in the nativity story.
prophecies after meeting the Messiah, he says that Jesus is born for the “fall
and rising of many in Jerusalem,” will be a sign opposed, and that in the
future this birth would cause a sword to pierce Mary’s soul. The prophetess
Anna prophesied of His redemption of mankind. Zecheriah prophesied of His
salvation. Mary and Joseph were told He would save people from their sin, and
Mary in praise acknowledged the prophecy that had come before Him. The magi,
when they arrived later, brought Jesus gifts that foreshadowed the crucifixion.
I have at
times looked past the nativity, seeing the crucifixion and resurrection as most
important. It is true, Jesus coming to Earth in and of itself does not
accomplish salvation, and the crucifixion and resurrection accomplish the purpose
of it. But let’s not look past the incomprehensible miracle that a God who
watched countless cycles of rebellion saw fit, from the very first rebellion,
to not just put up with us, but come down to the middle of our mess and walk
among us as one of us, without ever giving up His deity. The God of Creation
experienced the pain, heartbreak, and day-to-day struggles that we do. The King
of Glory came as a helpless baby, and even as a baby was worshipped because
some people just got it—He wasn’t ordinary. He was the only one who could do
what He did, and He did it. His coming broke a silence we will never experience
because what He accomplished while He was here among us made Him our personal
God not just for those thirty-some years, but forever. Understanding the
buildup to the Christmas miracle and the purpose for which it was done gives it
full meaning, and should reignite the wonder of the nativity.